Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail is a short and easy hike located on the east side of O’ahu. The trail is more commonly known as the “Kaneohe Pillbox” and is one of the four popular pillbox hikes on O’ahu.
The structures known as pillboxes were originally constructed around the island for military purposes. Some structures were used for observation sites while others were used as defensive sites.
Due to their original purposes, the pillbox hikes provide some of the best, most unobstructed views on the entire island — with the pillbox on Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail being no exception.
Apart from their views, what makes the many pillbox hikes on O’ahu so sought after is their easy access. Many of the best views on O’ahu are found on trails such as Olomana Trail or Kuli’ou’ou Ridge and are only appropriate for experienced hikers and those in peak physical shape. However, The pillbox hikes are accessible to hikers of all ages and experience levels making them a bucket list adventure for many visitors and locals alike.
In this guide, I cover what to expect hiking Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail, directions from Waikiki, how to find the trailhead, and other popular pillbox hikes on O’ahu you can’t miss.
Table of Contents
Hiking Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail (Kaneohe Pillbox Hike)
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Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail Stats
Distance: 2.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 600 feet
Time: 1-2 hours
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How Many Pillbox Hikes Are on O’ahu?
There are four main pillbox hikes on O’ahu:
(1) Kaiwa Pillbox
(2) Maili Pillbox
(3) Ehukai Pillbox
(4) Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Pillbox
Kaiwa Pillbox, more commonly referred to as the Lanikai Pillbox, is located on the east side of the island and leads to an iconic view of the Mokulua Islands.
Maili Pillbox, known as the “pink” pillbox is on the west side of O’ahu. Maili Pillbox offers, hands down, the best views of the west side, especially during sunset.
Ehukai Pillbox is located on the north shore of O’ahu and is characterized by a large painted peace sign on the second pillbox. There aren’t many hiking options on the north shore, compared to the rest of the island, so hiking ‘Ehukai Pillbox is a must.
Lastly, Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Pillbox is the fourth official pillbox on O’ahu.
There are other trails on O’ahu that have pillboxes, though not referred to as “pillbox” hikes. Diamond Head Trail, Koko Crater Trail, and Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail all have pillboxes you can explore.
What Is the Easiest Pillbox Hike on Oahu?
Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail is the easiest pillbox hike on O’ahu, in my opinion.
While all pillbox hikes on O’ahu are relatively short and easy to access, Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail covers the least amount of elevation and is generally considered good for hikers of all ages and experience levels.
With that being said, even hikes considered “easy” on O’ahu usually require a good amount of stamina, scrambling, and balance. Keep these things in mind before hitting the trail.
When Is the Best Time to Hike Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail?
Being located on the east side of the island, the best time to hike Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail is in the morning. For a truly unforgettable experience, consider reaching the top of the Kaneohe Pillbox just in time to watch the sunrise over Kaneohe Bay.
Anytime you can beat the crowds and hit the trails early on O’ahu, the better. Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail is a popular trail and thus can get very crowded mid-morning or day and especially on the weekends.
If you can fit it into your schedule, I recommend hiking Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail on a weekday for the best experience.
Directions to Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail from Waikiki
Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail is roughly a 35-minute drive from downtown Waikiki.
From Waikiki, veer onto I-H-1 West. Continue on the highway until you see Exit 20 (A) for HI-63 North/Kalihi Street toward the Likelike Highway.
Follow the HI-63 to the HI-83. Stay on the HI-83 until the turn-off into the Ko’olau Shopping Center where you park for the hike.
Finding the Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trailhead
Finding the Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail can be a bit tricky as, like most hikes on O’ahu, there is no official trailhead parking.
To access the trail, you must park in the Ko’olau Shopping Center parking lot and walk the HI-83 West (back the way you came) for a short distance. From the car to the trailhead is only about a 5-minute walk, give or take.
From the highway, look for a small dirt trail leading off to the left. This path marks the beginning of the Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail.
Safety note: Make sure when walking to the trailhead via the highway, that you walk on the grass side of the guardrail.
What to Expect Hiking Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail
Update: According to AllTrails and Honolulu Magazine, Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail is now closed as it is located on private property. Despite its closed status, the trail is still heavily frequented by locals and visitors alike. Hike at your own risk.
Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail begins on a small dirt path through the trees. Much of the trail remains under a thick canopy with very few opportunities for views of the surrounding mountains.
Being located on the east side of O’ahu, the area is prone to rain. Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail becomes extremely muddy if it’s recently rained and should be taken into consideration before beginning the trail. Though the trail is short, proper hiking shoes are still a good idea to help with the slippery trail conditions.
With only 600 feet of elevation gain, most of the trail remains relatively flat and manageable but it does have spurts of steep elevation gain. As with most hiking trails on O’ahu, Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail is scrambly, rooty, and involves a rope section.
The rope is there to help you navigate the steep uphill but is nothing technical. Before relying on the rope, for this hike or any other hike on O’ahu, make sure to check its sturdiness by giving it a quick pull. Only one hiker should be on a rope at a time.
Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail Pillbox
While there is nothing special about the trail itself, the view from the Kaneohe Pillbox makes the trek worth it.
Because the trail leads you up the back of the viewpoint, Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail truly really does save the best for last. Once you step onto the pillbox platform, you are rewarded with unobstructed views of the Kaneohe Bay coastline and beyond.
From the pillbox, you can see the Kaneohe sandbar, Coconut Island, Kualoa Ranch, and more. I am always in awe when looking out at the water on the east side of O’ahu because it is always a stunning shade of teal.
Unfortunately, the only place to stand to take in the view is in on the pillbox itself which can become crowded with other hikers. Make sure to share the space and allow others time to enjoy the view.
Top Pillbox Hikes on O’ahu
While there are several pillboxes scattered about the island, there are three other officials “pillbox hikes” on O’ahu, in addition to Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail. I’ve listed them below in order of personal favorites.
Maili (Pink) Pillbox
Pu’u O Hulu Trail — or Maili Pillbox or “Pink” Pillbox — is my favorite pillbox hike on O’ahu. While the trail itself is short and pretty straightforward the views from the top are unbeatable.
The iconic pink pillbox faces the west coastline of O’ahu providing unobstructed, front-row seats to the sunset. There is absolutely no better place to watch the sunset on the island. Just be prepared to share the view with several other locals and visitors.
Worth it, nonetheless.
Kaiwa (Lanikai) Pillbox
The Lanikai Pillbox hike is my second favorite pillbox on the island and is without a doubt the most popular pillbox hike on O’ahu.
While the Pink Pillbox is the best spot for sunset, the Lanikai Pillboxe(s) is the best spot for sunrise. The pillboxes face the east coastline making this spot the prime viewing location for catching a sunrise on O’ahu. To make the view even better, just offshore are the iconic Mokulua Islands that get silhouetted against the rising sun.
Again, expect several others to be gunning for sunrise on this trail as well.
Ehukai (Peace Sign) Pillbox
Lastly, the Ehukai Pillbox hike, marked by a spray-painted peace sign, is located on the north shore of O’ahu. The laid-back vibe, world-class surfing, and stretches of sandy beaches are typically what draw visitors to the North Shore, not necessarily the trails.
However, Ehukai Pillbox offers an amazing view of the coastline and should be added to any visitor’s bucket list. Like the other pillbox hikes on O’ahu, this trail is short with only a few quick spurts of elevation gain, and is generally considered a good trail for the whole family.
Since there aren’t many trails to choose from on the north shore, expect to encounter other hikers enjoying the view from Ehukai Pillbox as well.
Hike With Aloha
The pillbox hikes on O’ahu are relatively short, comparatively easy, and absolutely overdeliver on views. With the low-risk, high-reward nature of these hikes, they are almost always congested with hikers.
Due to the crowdedness of these trails, it’s all of our responsibility to practice aloha so that everyone can enjoy their time outdoors.
Share the Trail
It’s always important to hit the trail with the mindset that everyone belongs and equally deserves to be outside.
Hikers coming up the trail have the right-away — if you are coming down from Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail, step to the side to allow hikers hiking uphill to pass. Likewise, if hikers behind you are hiking at a pace faster than your own, move over to let them pass.
Following these simple rules of trail etiquette keeps the trail traffic flowing smoothly and allows everyone to have an enjoyable experience.
Erase the Trace
It is important to always follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles when enjoying any trail. Be properly prepared for the hike, stay on the designated trail, pack out any and all trash, be considerate of other hikers, and more.
We can also all take it a step further by erasing the trace: leaving the trail better than we found it.
I.e. if you see trash (even if it’s not yours), pick it up.
Do you live on O’ahu or are you just visiting? If you have any questions about hiking Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail or any of the other pillbox hikes on O’ahu, leave me a message in the comment section below.
If you’re looking to take the ultimate O’ahu trip, check out my other Hawai’i guides highlighting my favorite island hikes, adventures, and more.
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